Joining the Dots Ecosystem services. Climate change. Global pandemic.
TerraGreen|March 2021
In this article, Biba Jasmine reflects on the linkages among ecosystem services, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The important components of ecosystems are also discussed with a focus on policies in place.
Biba Jasmine

The unprecedented crisis humanity is going through due to the spread of coronavirus demands a serious pause and a somber introspection on what mankind has done to the environment, what actions are needed currently, and how and in what ways performance and management need to be aligned for effective and efficient actions. India, a megadiverse country with only 2.4 per cent of the world’s land area, 7–8 per cent of the recorded species diversity, supporting around 18 per cent of the human population and a substantial percentage of cattle population, is taking adequate measures, undoubtedly, to develop responsibly and in an environment-friendly manner. However, the question remains—if that is enough and most importantly, if that is substantial?

While we know a lot about how many ecosystems operate around us with such complexity and on such a large scale that it would be difficult for humanity to replace them, no matter how much money has been invested in the process. However, processes such as breakdown and decomposition of dead organisms and wastes; the recycling of nutrients for a new life on land, in rivers, lakes, and streams, and the vast blue oceans; and regulation of microclimate—are all remarkably paramount and need to be dedicatedly preserved.

A tale about a temperate forest demonstrates well the abundance and complexity ecological systems can offer. Temperate forests act as CO 2 sinks by carbon sequestration in the trees and soils, thus significantly reducing human-caused climate change and thereby stabilizing local climates, the uptake of water by tree roots; reduce soil erosion by dampening the power of rain and by tree roots binding soils; provides goods, such as timber, medicines, and food; reduce risk of infectious diseases to humans such as Lyme disease.

Deforestation, dredging; damming of rivers and streams; degradation of wetlands, mangroves, and estuaries; habitat destruction—on land, water and oceans; release of high amounts of nitrates and phosphates from sewage and agricultural holdings into natural systems; acid rain; fertilizers and pesticides; introducing non-native species; over-harvesting of species of plants and animals—are factors dismantling biological diversity and ecological systems. And we see these negative externalities all around us, don’t we!!

Ecosystems that are Crucial for Human Survival and Well-being

There is credible evidence globally that the ongoing climate change has a deleterious impact on ecosystems. Changes in temperature, precipitation, humidity, and other climate-based abiotic parameters impact humans, animals, and ecosystems in several complex ways. In response to higher temperatures, several species shift their ranges upslope and poleward. We know by now that climate is an important environmental influence on various ecosystems. It affects ecosystems in more than one way. For example, warming might force species to migrate to higher latitudes or elevations where temperatures are more favourable to survival. The influx of saltwater into an aquatic ecosystem may force some main species to flee or die, thus eliminating predators or prey that are crucial to the local food chain as the sea level rises. One such stark example of tree line advancing or receding due to climate change in the Himalayan region has been studied by the G B Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment, Almora. The study revealed the upward movement of the tree line due to climate change in the Himalayan region and the expansion of the Rhododendron campanulatum krummholz in the tree line of Tungnath.

Development in the form of urbanization, intensive agriculture, and land-use changes are some of the few human stressors that directly affect ecosystems and species. Although some stress factors only cause localized impacts when working alone, their combined effect can result in substantial ecological changes. For example, climate change can exasperate the stress land development places on fragile coastal regions. Additionally, recently logged forest areas can become susceptible to erosion upon heavy precipitation. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5 Degree Special Report (2018), ‘climate-related health risks, livelihood opportunities, food security, and so on, are expected to increase with global warming by 1.5°C or more, and disadvantaged and marginalized populations including children are at greater risk of complications’. Owing to numerous climate factors, including severe weather events involving vector-borne and waterborne diseases, IPCC, WHO, and other studies suggest health consequences. The vulnerable group is more likely to experience these exposures and detrimental effects.

Biodiversity Under Threat

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